1940s IQ tests helping to reveal how lifestyle affects the brain
REDISCOVERED IQ tests carried out on every 11-year-old child in Scotland 60 years ago have given scientists a unique opportunity to pinpoint factors which can damage the brain as well as the body.
Follow up tests on a number of the original study group show smoking, obesity, poor diet and lack of physical exercise known to contribute to diseases such as cancer and diabetes can also affect the mind.
Findings suggest that "dementing diseases" such as Alzheimer's are partly self-inflicted and could be delayed or avoided by a healthier lifestyle.
Scientists have also discovered a small group of men known as the "elite old" who have defied the logic of ageing and whose IQ and fitness levels have risen throughout their lives and appear to be still rising.
Actor Richard Wilson, who played Victor Meldrew in the BBC comedy One Foot in the Grave was one of the 1947 participants and is helping scientists publicise the project.
The 1947 Scottish Mental Survey, involving more than 70,000 school pupils, was sponsored by the Scottish Council for Research in Education. But results were filed away when education policies changed and lay undisturbed in the council's basement in Glasgow until tracked down decades later.
Ian Deary, professor of differential psychology at the University of Edinburgh, traced the ledgers after noticing a reference to the study in a book. "By tracking down and retesting the people in that study we can see how their mental powers have changed over the decades and what impact their lifestyles have had on those changes," Prof Deary said.
About 1,500 of those involved in the study have been traced in a joint effort between Prof Deary and Lawrence Whalley, professor of mental health at the University of Aberdeen.
Participants undertook a range of tests and were given an MRI scan of their brains to assess any deterioration caused by ageing.
Prof Whalley said lifestyle definitely affects the brain.
He explained: "What is emerging is that people who are brighter, more socially engaged, and who live healthy lives, retain their mental faculties as well as their physical health for much longer."
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